Picture by Olympics.com

Mission Olympics - Tara Prasad dreams to mix Indian creativity and Bollywood on ice

The 21-year-old Indian-American aspires to participate at the Winter Olympics one day and help figure skating win popularity in cricket-crazy India.
By Utathya Nag

Every time Indian figure skater Tara Prasad steps onto the ice, she moves with a point to prove.

In a country obsessed with cricket, ice sports, including figure skating, barely sits on the fringes of the popularity spectrum. Tara Prasad, a three-time and reigning national champion, understands that reality pretty well.

“To be honest, I don’t think that this is a sport which most of the Indian population really knows exists. When I travel in India with my skates, sometimes the customs people will be like, ‘what is this weapon? Is this a knife?’” Tara Prasad revealed during an exclusive chat with Olympics.com.

“I have to request them to handle the skates carefully to avoid ruining the blade. They just don't know and it's not their fault. They just haven't been exposed to it,” Tara Prasad continued.

"I think maybe if Indian skaters start having more successes outside of India, then not only the population but the government will take notice of ice sports and skating can hopefully become popular in India.”

The 21-year-old Tara Prasad’s assessment, perhaps, isn’t exaggerated. To illustrate her point, Nishchay Luthra, one of the most accomplished figure skaters to come out from India in recent years with multiple international medals under his name, had to turn to crowdfunding to support his career due to lack of funding.

Luthra’s mother even had to take a loan against their Delhi house and mortgage jewellery to meet the costs.

Tara Prasad is aware of the monumental challenge she faces but intends to do her part to bring her sport out of the shadows. En route, the most important item on her agenda is to qualify for the Winter Olympics – something no Indian figure skater has managed to do so far.

“My goal is to make it to the Winter Olympics and even though it might not happen this time, I do want to skate for another four years. So, the next Olympics is actually my primary goal,” Tara noted.

Tara Prasad is competing at the Nebelhorn Trophy 2021 in Germany – the final qualification event for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games but concedes that making the cut for next year’s showpiece is a long shot. It’s only the third international event of her career.

“I know I may not have the experience like everyone else yet. So, I just came here to try my best,” Tara said.

The young skater, with help from her coach Stephanie Ordaz Kuban, also has the roadmap to meet her goal at the 2026 Winter Games in Italy drawn out.

“This year I'm just trying to get international experience. I also have the technical score to qualify for the Four Continents, so hopefully I'll be able to compete in that. That will be a big event for me.”

The Four Continents Figure Skating Championships is one of the big annual events for non-European figure skaters.

“The next four years, I’ll keep doing my best every time. Some performances may not go as well as others, but you just have to keep trying and then eventually you will improve to the level that you can compete with the best,” Tara noted.

Establishing the India connect to figure skating

Though born in the USA, Tara Prasad calls India her home and competes under the tricolour. As a tribute, the 21-year-old makes sure to incorporate little elements of India in her routines to celebrate her heritage – an aspect, she believes, will also eventually help Indian fans connect more to the sport.

“I decorate my dresses for competitions myself. My jewellery, accessories and the stones I put on my dresses are stuff I got from fabric shops in India. I also have real gold jewellery from India for my long programme. I have also used different designs taken from sarees (traditional Indian dresses) and all kinds of fabrics that I got from India.

“Last year, I had music from a Bollywood film and I would hopefully like to do that programme again in the future,” Tara Prasad stated.

Continuing on the same line, Tara Prasad also noted that the country’s deep-rooted connection with art and culture could make Indian figure skaters a big hit on the international arena.

“India has a lot of talent which is not being used because of lack of opportunities, facilities and coaching. I think India is very artistic. Obviously, the country is very rich in art and creativity. And that is half of your score in figure skating. Indian skaters are so creative, we are so good at dance. The technical aspects will come eventually.”

Tara Prasad’s journey and motivations

Tara Prasad was born and brought up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the USA but shares deep roots with India due to her family. Her mother’s family is from Chennai in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu while his dad hails from Sivaganga – a town in the same state.

“Most of my family is in India. My father is here in the US with me, but the rest of my family is there. So, I keep travelling to India from the US and back,” Tara Prasad revealed.

Tara Prasad’s mother, Kavita Ramaswamy, was a national-level hurdles champion during her high school days. Being the only child of a track and field athlete, affinity to sports came easy.

“I started figure skating at the age of seven while in the US. I don't really remember how I started. I just remember that I liked it. So, I kept at it. I think I have a picture of me and my dad skating on ice, but I don't know if that was the first time I got on the ice or not.”

On what drew her to figure skating, Tara Prasad reminisced that as a child, she thought falling down on ice was really funny.

“I would come to the rink just to fall down again and again. But then I actually started trying to not fall all the time and become good. So, I started taking lessons and then I kept going from there.”

Tara Prasad’s idol growing up was the legendary South Korean figure skater Yuna Kim – a two-time world champion and Olympic medallist. She was the ladies singles champion at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

“Obviously nobody's perfect, but I think she's (Yuna Kim) perfect,” Tara Prasad gushed.

“I also appreciate people who continue skating, even though they may be a little bit older. For example, the Olympic pairs champion, Aljona Savchenko. I love her so much because she tried so many times to win the Olympics and she finally won.”

Tara also draws inspiration from fellow Indian-American Ami Parekh, who was one of the early pioneers of women’s figure skating in India.

Parekh was the first Indian figure skater to compete in a senior International Skating Union (ISU) event and also has two World Figure Skating Championships and three Four Continents appearances under her belt. She was also an eight-time national champion.

Tara Prasad still has a long way to go to emulate her skating heroes, but the graceful Indian is certainly attracting attention on ice – something she admits motivates her to be better.

“When people pay attention to me on the rink, be it the audience, judges and people in general, I draw most of my motivation from that in competitions,” Tara says.

A lot more support is certainly set to come Tara Prasad’s way in the future, and some of it, hopefully, will rub off on the figure skating scene in India, allowing the graceful sport the due attention it deserves.